Staff Picks: Elna Baker

When I was single, Valentine’s Day was a date on the calendar that arbitrarily made me feel sad, like a yellow highlighter marking my aloneness. When I was in a relationship, Valentine’s Day felt so commercial and the next day I was chucking heart-shaped chocolate boxes towards the landfill. Or being pissed at my partner for not doing it “right.” 

But this year I feel differently about it. Maybe it’s because there’s so much anger and ugliness in the world, the idea of celebrating love seems really refreshing. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been awake to my own love life lately, listening to my heart, actively trying to understand it in a way that is raw, and sometimes sucks, but also feels urgent. Love is something I often put on autopilot. It’s easier not to think about it, because then you don’t have to constantly feel how truly scary it is to love or how impermanent it all is. So I like that there’s a day when we’re supposed to show our love and reflect on love.

This is my pitch for your Valentine’s Day: Don’t buy stuff this year. Instead, sit for a few hours and let these stories open up space in your heart for love. And yes, I just wrote that sentence. 

So here we go. Let’s start at a middle school dance, just to remind everyone older than 15 how far we’ve come. I once interviewed a girl in middle school who said, “Don’t you hate it when you go on a date with someone and they don’t talk at all.” It was only as I questioned her further that I realized that she meant this literally. A guy had taken her on a date and from the moment he picked her up to the moment they came home, they did not speak once. I totally remember being that clueless. When I was in middle school, I was so desperate to impress a guy, that when he told me he liked my hemp necklace, I lied and told him I’d made it myself (in reality it was from Hot Topic). Next thing I knew I was making him and all his way more-popular-than-me friends hemp necklaces like I was his love slave laborer. For me, “Stutter Step” perfectly captures the feeling of entering the world of love and all the insecurities that come with it. 

What I like about this next story, “Love Story,” is how it sounds. David Cossin meets a woman in Italy and falls in love. When he returns home to New York, he makes over a dozen tapes for the woman, describing his world to her. His voice on the tapes is so distinctly the sound of someone in love that it brings you right to the center of that early feeling of love. A time when everything is possible and you are bursting with gratitude that the person you’ve been hoping for all your life might actually exist. His voice on these tapes is so full of warmth, kindness, and tenderness.

Love can come in many forms. As a fat teenaged girl with low self-esteem, I was inundated with messages that no one would ever love me. So the people I identified with in movies, books, and songs were the ones who didn’t ever get the guy. From age eleven to eighteen (who am I kidding, I still do this), I would sing “On My Own” from Le Mis in the shower and imagine that the water falling on my head was raindrops and the story was my own. I was a girl who no one would ever love and pining became the most recognizable form of love to me.  In other words,  love is wanting someone who doesn’t want you back. No story on our show captures this feeling better than “Break-up” by Starlee Kine. 

While we’re on the subject of the way love can make us feel crazy, let’s visit “Unbreak My Heart” by Julia Lillis. I identify with Julia so much in this story. As someone who grew up on Grand Gestures of love, Julia’s choice to fly to England to win back her ex, speaks to the daring, illogical part of my heart (the one that saw a lot of rom-coms and had never heard of IMAGO therapy). To make this kind of grand gesture is immature, sure, but there’s also an innocence, an unbroken I-still-believe-in-love quality to it. 

I found the next two stories for the show as a story scout. What drew me to them is how well they capture the way that love pushes you to evolve as a person. In “Best Laid Plans,” by Kurt Braunohler, we explore what it’s like to get out of a relationship. And in “Optimius … Way Past Her Prime,” by Anthony Devito, we see that it’s never too late to get into one. 

Before I was married, I saw love in a more simplistic way, like I was looking at the surface of a beautiful lake, longing to jump in, but without knowing what was in the water. In “What Really Happens in Marriage,” Ira talks with researcher John Gottman about the habits that help make marriages work and the ones that don’t. And in this story, “I Met Him in the Yogurt Store, and Now He Is Not My Leader of the Pack,” which I’ve always absolutely loved, we see a couple, years into their marriage, confront an obstacle together in a totally unexpected way. 

Now that we’ve covered the boring, reality-check stuff, I want to turn to the thing I promised at the beginning: stories that will open your heart completely.  Which is why I am including these next two stories. I remember laying in bed and hearing “When Worlds Collide,” about love at first sight and the way you can feel connected to someone’s soul. It’s one of those stories that has helped me to believe in love despite setbacks. Similarly, “Really Long Distance,” by producer Miki Meek, captures what’s really at stake when we love, a profound sense of loss.

And lastly (because I don’t want to end with you feeling too emotionally gutted) let’s watch this video that our producer Stephanie Foo and Bianca Giaever made about a couple saying the words “I love you” for the first time. Fun fact, I made the masks for this video and hot-glue gunned the shit out of my hands in the process.

In conclusion, I hope you enjoy these stories on love and that you know that you are loved and that there are people you get to love in this life, and that that is pretty damn cool. And yes, I just wrote that sentence too.